The Gadar

12 Mar

Bogdan Ivanov was continually on the road, never for long in any one place. This was due to the profession he had inherited from his father, who had learned from his own father the art of capturing, exterminating, and expelling the small pests of life in the Balkans of the 19th century. It was a difficult task he performed, but there was always a need for it somewhere within the Ottoman provinces and its Christian communities.

The brown-eyed, hairy giant had received an invitation by word of mouth to leave Belogradchik, where he had just finished an assignment to rid the town of vermin, and proceed at once to Vidin on the Danube, which had an immediate, crying need for the services of an experienced gadar able to deal with an exploding population of dangerous pests.

There was no indication to Bogdan what his specific enemy would be in the walled city with its large fortress.

He said goodbye to the friends he had made in Belogradchik and prepared himself to make the trek on foot to the river port to the north looking across the river to the Rumanian lands and westward toward Serbia. What awaited him in Vidin he would learn when he arrived there.

Above the river town loomed the great stone fortress know as Grandmother Vida. It was used by the Sultan’s military forces as an encampment, a warehouse for arms, and a prison. Bogdan had heard the legend of its founding from his father long ago. It came back to him as he gazed up at the castle-like structure with its double massive walls, four towers, and surrounding moat.

A Bulgarian boyar with three daughters had died and left his holdings and possessions to them. Two of the young maidens, Kula and Gamza, marry handsome husbands who very soon gamble away all the inheritance of this pair. But the eldest sister, Vida, makes a vow to remain forever unmarried in order the preserve her father’s estate. She builds the magnificent castle and spends the rest of her life within it.

Vida became a favorite figure in local folklore, a protector of the Christian townspeople from the harsh winds of misfortune.

Bogdan asked a man he passed in the street where he could find the Christian chorbadzhia in charge of Vidin. “Next to the Konaka, our police station, is his residence,” said the pedestrian, pointing down toward the Danube and the area of docks. “He lives next door to the center of lawful authority for this town.”

The gadar thanked him and headed toward the home of the local Christian notable who had summoned him here.

The house was the largest in the vicinity. A woman admitted Bogdan as soon as he told her who he was. She led him into a well-furnished parlor full of polished wooden furniture where a stout figure in expensive Turkish clothing rose from a cushioned seat and greeted the gadar. Low sofas with red pillows lined all four walls of the large room. In the four corners stood shelves holding small icons with lighted candles. Bottles holding holy water were visible to the visitor.

Stanko Dimov, with a fat, dark face and eyes, was a man conscious of his own status, wealth, and dignity as the collector of taxes and enforcer of state laws in Vidin. Both Ottoman officials and the Christian townspeople and village peasantry recognized him as a person whom they had to respect and take into consideration.

When the two men were seated, the chorbadzhgia began to talk business. “I summoned you to Vidin because we are facing a dangerous invasion of vermin here. Houses and any building containing edible substances is under attack from mice and rats. These creatures grow bold and almost fearless in what they manage in doing. No food supply anywhere is safe from them. The entire population is terrified. The terrible pests take from both Christians and Turks. No one has found any way of ridding the town or the countryside of this enemy.”

Bogdan grinned at him with confidence. “I learned certain successful methods of getting rid of even the worst of such small robbers,” he assured the town leader of the Christian population. “Over the years, I cleansed many communities of the raiders who came from the forests and the fields.”

Stanko, for a time, studied the face of the exterminator in silence. When he again spoke, his voice seemed muffled and distant.

“You can stay with one of my patrolmen. His name is Boyan, and he is prepared to take you into his house while you are staying in Vidin. He has been called and will be arriving here shortly.”

Boyan was an extremely tall, spare patrolman in old-fashioned village breeches and fur hat. His talk was open and jolly, his face beamed with good humor and friendliness. He shook the hand of Bogdan with sincerity and patent good will.

“Shall I take you on a tour of Vidin?” said the local pandur. “You will wish to see some of the damage done by the rats that is still visible, I take for granted.”

The exterminator agreed and the pair departed from the house of the rich chorbadzhia. Bogdan promised to report back on his estimate of the problem and what he intended to do in order to solve it.

Boyan took his charge to his own house, where a room had been set aside and prepared for him. The gadar sat down in the kitchen and shared a noon meal prepared by the wife of the policeman.

“I know that various poisons can be used against invading vermin,” said Boyan as both men finished their food. “But we here in Vidin have been reluctant to use any dangerously toxic substances because of the fear of eventually harming the health and well-being of human beings. That is always a hazard present when fighting against rats, isn’t it?”

Bogdan nodded his head. “Ordinary, uninformed persons who attempt my craft can endanger others, especially children, who are the most vulnerable to the strength of the materials prescribed by legend. But my father used entirely different means, and he taught me his secret weapons to use against the rampages of pests such as rats.”

Boyan gave him a quizzical look. “You have different tools that you use?”

Bogdan smiled with inner satisfaction. “The measures developed by my father and his father are my own inheritance, and I have never shared them with anyone else. They are so potent that great care and caution must be applied when putting them to use. All that I can tell you is this: my family’s secret method has always worked with success, wherever I have applied it among the Bulgars, Serbs, or Turks, in all the regions I have wandered through. There has always been victory for me, never any failure.”

Boyan furrowed his brow. “You must see what our enemies look like. I will show you one of the places where they congregate to breed. It is a storehouse on the dock used by riverboats on the Danube.”

The exterminator was surprised when he saw the extraordinary size of the scavenging creatures. They swarmed in large numbers in the shadowy corners and recesses of the now empty storage space that had been turned into their home base.

Bogdan looked in amazement at the bold pests who moved and squirmed without regard to being watched by two human beings.

“They have grown to have no fear of anyone or anything,” whispered the local patrolman. “Nothing we have tried has worked against them. They multiply as the days past, becoming evermore hungry as food disappears and becomes harder for them to find.”

Bogdan started to head for the door. “I have never seen or fought against rats as big as these. This breed of plukh is the most formidable that I have ever had to get rid off. It will take an unprecedented effort on my part, that is for sure.”

The pair exited and headed back to the house of Boyan.

The itinerant gadar slept that night in a separate room in which he was furnished with a comfortable floor mattress. Tired from his long trek to Vidin and the events of that day, Bogdan was sound asleep immediately. But the restfulness of his initial deep slumber did not last all through the long night. Something odd began to happen to the unconscious visitor to Vidin.

He started to roll and twitch. His entire body seemed to be experiencing a horrible nightmare of some sort. The shaking and twitching grew more and more intense. His partially undressed torso grew wet with perspiration. All at once, strange sounds issued out of his mouth, resembling a mad form of raving and chanting.

The voice of the dreamer became loud enough to awaken the others in the small house. Boyan sprang to his feet and went through the dark to the room in the rear that had been assigned to the guest.

What is wrong with this exterminator of the invading colonies of rats? he asked himself in panic and horror. Has his seeing what they look like frightened or bewildered the unfortunate fellow?

But by the time he reached his destination, the noise had ended and the gadar had awakened and was returning to full consciousness.

Boyan stopped, turned about, and went back the way he had come. He decided to pose the questions in his mind in sunlight, when day had returned to the town of Vidin.

Bogdan said nothing at first about what had haunted his sleep so violently, and Boyan did not ask him directly. The wife of the pandur patroller had a breakfast of gruel ready for the two men. As soon as they had eaten, Boyan offered to take the exterminator up to the defensive walls of Grandmother Vida. “You will have a wide, clear view of the town and the river from that height,” he said reassuringly. “It should help you to decide how you are to deal with the armies of rats that strangle us without any relief.”

Bogdan looked directly at his host, pursing his lips and frowning, but saying nothing. Only when the two men were outdoors and starting to climb the hill on which stood the fortress of Grandmother Vidin did the gadar begin an explanation of the previous night.

“I must tell you something, Boyan. My initial attack against the rat colonies started last night. It should already have had some effect that is noticeable and visible. This offensive of mine started while I appeared to be sleeping. That is the time when I apply my inner forces to the goal that I am pursuing.”

The town patrolman stopped in his tracks and turned his eyes on his companion. He said nothing, but his facial expression was one full of silent questioning.

Bogdan, his eyes with a trancelike mist to them, revealed what he was talking about.

“From my earliest childhood, my father trained me in the use of the thoughts within my mind for practical purposes in our conflicts against pests and predators. I learned how to control myself both when awake and when sleeping. The power to throw forth my own will and wishes, so as to take command of enemies like rats, became mine through years of difficult effort and training. As I traveled from place to place with him, my father unlocked for me the secret chants and formulas of the craft of the gadar. In time, I also became an adept exterminator of the unwanted pests that plague the towns and villages of many lands. My knowledge covers both the expulsion and the decimation of the devilish creatures. They are the creations of evil Satan, not of the God up in heaven.

“Last night, I recited in my sleep the miraculous, arcane formulas passed on to me from my father, who was taught them by his own father. I am unable to explain to you how they work and take control over vermin and kill them. But I do know that I had some kind of effect on the invaders here in Vidin.

“I want you to help me find out how successful I was, Boyan. Will you do that once we climb down from the Grandmother Vida castle?”

The pandur, shaking a little, said “Indeed, I will be by your side.”

The pair then climbed upward to the moat and outer wall of the invulnerable fortress.

The pandur was startled by what he saw floating in the moat when he and Bogdan stepped near it and looked down into the still, clear water. An army of dead rats were afloat in it, bunched up in wet, unmoving piles of corpses.

Boyan gaped at the gadar with open mouth and dilated eyes. “What is happening?” he asked. “Why have so many of them died all at once? Is it some all-powerful poison of some kind?”

Bogdan looked at him calmly and spoke with evident self-confidence.

“The secret words that I repeated in my sleep last night brought about this wished-for result. Don’t ask me to explain, because I have never been able to uncover how the formulas in the back of my mind work. My father was the one who planted them there for me, and that was how he made me into a gadar like himself. I carry out what he taught me, but am unable to explain it in any way.” He smiled slyly at the tall man from Vidin. “I now suspect that the primary breeding grounds for all the rats was located within the old fortress of Grandmother Vida, where the Sultanic Army keeps its stores of arms. That is the reason that the moat before us is clogged up with mountains of dead rats. Now, let us go back to the town and make a survey of the rat condition at various sites. I am interested in finding out if the invaders are still situated in storage buildings and other locations by the Danube.”

The two men turned away from the moat packed with death and started back down to the town.

The astounding reality was that the pair found nothing except multitudes of dead rat bodies. It appeared that overnight the newcomer had rid Vidin of all its dangerous vermin. Not a single one had been left alive after the effort made by Bogdan when his mind was outwardly asleep to the world.

“Chorbadzhia Stanko must know of this situation at once,” declared Boyan with excitement in his voice. “You should be with me to explain how such an achievement came to be attained.”

Bogdan agreed and they two headed for the house of the rich notable.

The wife of the chorbadzhia led them through the house into the rear garden, where her husband sat under an apple tree, reading a small book he had obtained from a wandering peddler.

Stanko Dimov was visibly surprised to see them in this, his private sanctuary and retreat from the cares of his office and position.

He was the one who spoke first.

“Is anything wrong? Did something happen with the rat problem?”

It was Boyan who related the surprising demise of all the vermin that could be seen anywhere in or around Vidin. The chorbadzhia looked at the pandur for a few seconds in silence after the account was given. Then he turned to the gadar and asked him a burning question.

“You accomplished all of that in a single night?”

“Yes, sir. I met with immediate success with my effort.”

“But how was such a feat possible? What hidden ability is it that you possess?” asked Stanko, his face reddened with undefined emotion.

“I long ago memorized certain hidden formulas that permit me to reach and affect many, many rats or other pests at one time. The method is very hard to describe accurately, because I happen to be asleep at the time that the whole thing occurs. I seem to fall into a dreamlike trance in which I repeat all the occult sentences and chants that my father instilled in me when I was a small child. They are there in my inner memory, although I could not possibly repeat them to you aloud at this moment.

“The entire operation inside me is unnatural and uncanny, yet it is as real as anything else in my life. I swear that it was from me that the destruction of all the rats came about. How else could such an event have happened?”

He looked directly at the chorbadzhia with unswerving fire in his eyes.

Stanko looked up and away, toward the high branches of the apple tree. “I must be certain that the victory you speak of is a complete and permanent one. That cannot be determined with one look alone. I intend to look into every building and corner of Vidin, in order to be certain that what you claim is wholly true. Yes, it shall take me a length of time to decide whether your strange method of fighting the vermin has done what you say that it has.”

Bogdan found himself unable to say anything more on the matter that had brought him to Vidin in the first place.

“Excuse us, sir,” said Boyan, taking a step back. “We shall come here to see you tomorrow. At what time of the day is it convenient to talk with us?”

“Return late in the afternoon,” replied the wealthy notable. “I plan to spend most of tomorrow making a full inspection of the entire community in order to judge what has been done.”

Bogdan seemed to be concerned about the circumstances surrounding him and his successful annihilation of the population of rodents attacking the town of Vidin. But he was unable to place a definite label on the emotion that was disturbing his peace of mind. What is going wrong with my work here? he asked himself all that afternoon and early evening at the house of the patrolman, Boyan. An unknown heavy weight was impinging on his innermost mind, he was certain.

The gadar slept all of the night and well into the early morning.

He awoke with astonishment at how exhausted he had become from the events the previous day.

Boyan was waiting for him in the rear kitchen, having risen hours before and gone off on specific errands in the town. His face appeared crestfallen and worried as he greeted his guest.

“I have something awful to tell you, Bogdan,” he hesitantly reported. “I woke quite early and went out to report to the chorbadzhia, as I always do. What he told me at his home was an unexpected shock for me.

“He does not believe that you are the person responsible for the death of so many of the rats. The invasion has only temporarily stopped, he said, and will shortly begin all over again. There has been no final victory over the vermin. They are hiding somewhere where we cannot see them yet, preparing for renewed attacks on Vidin in the days to come.

“Because of what he believes to be true, you shall not be paid anything. You have by no means solved our pest problem here. In fact, his intention is to order you to leave the town and never return.

“The chorbadzhia thinks that you have made false reports to him and have not produced any lasting answer to our problem. If you do not leave voluntarily, you will then be driven out by force, he warned me.

“I advise you to depart immediately, my friend, for the sake of your own safety.”

The face of the pandur had become a mask of distress.

“Yes,” replied the exterminator, “I will go on this very day. But I will obtain a vengeance for how I have been treated in Vidin by Stanko Dimov. This town shall not forget who I am.”

The two men exchanged ominous looks.

Bogdan the gadar left and never returned. Within days, large armies of rats once more attacked and brought trouble with them.

Was the rejected visitor responsible? wondered Boyan and many residents of the town. Had Stanko Dimov caused the calamity by refusing to pay the wanderer for his services?

There was a lot of private whispering about the folly of not believing what a gadar achieved in a community like Vidin.

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